Which uni presidents make more than Bush?

Compared to Bush, uni presidents make a mint. But compared to CEOs, they’re a bargain

At first glance, you might have mistaken salary disclosure day in Ontario for an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke. But this ain’t a hoax: some university presidents in Ontario are paid more than Stephen Harper or George W. Bush get to run entire countries. Then again, university presidents (and Harper, and Bush) get paid less—a lot less—than corporate CEOs.

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At the top of the pay scale in Ontario, McMaster president Peter George pulled in a total of $504,792 in salary and taxable benefits last year. That’s $100,000 more than President George Bush’s US$400,000. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was paid $312,922 including a $2,000 car allowance (just for the record, the lease payments on my 2005 Toyota Echo come to more than that each year).

Of course, pay packages for university presidents need to be sufficient to attract qualified candidates away from other sectors. And considering the loot thrown at other highly valued Canadians — professional athletes and CEOs, for instance — maybe McMaster is lucky that president George hasn’t run off yet to join the private sector. Can George skate? The Leafs paid Bryan McCabe over $7 million last year. CEOs at TD, Royal Bank, and Imperial Oil topped $10 million. (See salary chart at the end of this article.)

Looking at our uni presidents’ peers down south, it seems that Canadian presidential salaries might be in the right ballpark. The median salary for the president of a public university in the USA is about $335,000, according to the U.S. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. And while ten presidents in Ontario are well above that benchmark, so are many presidents at private American institutions. For example, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yale president Richard C. Levin made $869,026 last year. A number of other presidents cleared $1 million. So did some U.S. college sports coaches.

Canada’s highest paid president appears to be in Alberta. University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera received $591,000 in the 2006-2007 fiscal year. That includes house and car allowances, performance bonuses, and deferred compensation.

Some would argue that comparing university president salaries to corporate CEOs is unfair since taxpayers foot the bill for the former. But CEOs at other public institutions are also making decent coin. Tom Parkinson, CEO of Hydro One, made over $1.5 million in 2007 and Paul Taylor, CEO for the Insurance Company of BC, was paid $480,039.

Until relatively recently, presidents didn’t get paid that much more than professors (although more than a few Ontario profs pocketed over $200,000 last year). That changed when universities started to act more like corporations. Interestingly, the highest paid university administrator in Ontario isn’t a president at all, but Felix Chee, CEO of U ot T Asset Management Corporation. Chee made $562,000 in 2007.

One interesting question: why are university presidents making so much more than politicians? Stephen Harper makes less than the presidents of many universities, including Windsor and Trent. And despite the fact that his job is to oversee and fund these high-rollers, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Chris Bentley made only $125,865 in 2007, less than every uni head in Ontario. Toronto Mayor David Miller fared a little better with his $148,875 salary, beating out the presidents of Algoma and Huntington. The premier of Ontario? Dalton McGuinty earned just over $200,000.